Skip

Dutch East Indies
August 16, 2007 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Dutch East Indies. "After a wonderful youth in the Dutch East Indies, today Indonesia, my family and I went through three and a half years Japanese occupation. I lost my father, I lost the country I loved, I lost everything, but I kept my memories. ... So here I am, 79 years old, sitting behind my computer, going back to the Dutch East Indies."
posted by No-sword (31 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Via BoingBoing.

Just kidding. Via.
posted by No-sword at 5:59 AM on August 16, 2007


This is amazing.
posted by chunking express at 6:25 AM on August 16, 2007


Wow, I came here to say the same as chunking ex. Simply amazing.

See, this is why I keep a journal...
posted by Brittanie at 6:52 AM on August 16, 2007


Reminds me of Isak Dinesen, "I had a farm in Africa...."

..my family and I went through three and a half years Japanese occupation

And the Indonesians went through a much, much longer period of Dutch occupation, but that seems somewhat lost in the romantic memories of this Dutch colonist.

*Although as I write this from Holland looking out over the dreary landscape of The Hague, I can understand why some Dutch were keen to get away....*
posted by three blind mice at 7:07 AM on August 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow! Thanks.

tbm: I, on the other hand, have fond wistful memories of my childhood in The Hague...
posted by trip and a half at 7:11 AM on August 16, 2007


but that seems somewhat lost in the romantic memories of this Dutch colonist.

My god, you mean she doesn't remember the Java War? How dare she claim to have not been a controlling partner of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie? The whole thing was her idea in the first place!

Such filthy pride she has! This is truly, truly, the greatest injustice suffered by humanity since the dawn of time. I demand that this creature be immediately executed on the grounds of crimes against humanity.
posted by aramaic at 7:16 AM on August 16, 2007


I, on the other hand, have fond wistful memories of my childhood in The Hague...

And I have fond memories of my childhood in Philadelphia, trip and a half, but the reality of it was another story. Childhood memories are just that - childhood memories: the large, spacious house that was actually a cramped shoebox, the massive snowfalls that were just a dusting of snow, a pleasant life in a distant country which was just participation in an oppressive occupation, etc. Most memiors like this seem to me to be less a recollection of the time as it actually was and more romantic fantasy burnished by time and distance.
posted by three blind mice at 7:24 AM on August 16, 2007


Such filthy pride she has!

I wasn't commenting on her "filthy pride," aramaic, simply her lack - at 79 years of age - of any sense of irony and what appears to be ignorance of her own country's brutal history in the region.
posted by three blind mice at 7:33 AM on August 16, 2007


Poor white colonizers don't get everything they want.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:45 AM on August 16, 2007


I love this post.

The orangutan story especially.
posted by smackwich at 7:46 AM on August 16, 2007


No, don't back down!

We must track her down and make her pay for her crimes! For the crimes of every filthy mongrel Dutchman!

These memories of hers offend the memory of the thousands, nay, millions slain under her brutal rule! If we permit her to reminisce, unmolested by our justice, we are ourselves guilty of genocide!

No, do not back down now, not when we are so close to ridding the world of evil. One quick stroke, and this old woman will be gone, and with her goes the whole hideous history of suffering. If we permit her to live, it is as though we are condoning the history that stands behind her!

She is guilty! Guilty of being Dutch, of being European and therefore guilty of atrocities uncounted.

I weep every night, thinking of the victims! When, oh when will the victims have their justice? When can we wash our hands clean of the stains left by history?

I'll tell you: when we stop this old woman from having her memories, that's when. Then, and only then, can we rest assured in our moral superiority.

Don't back down now tbm, our victory lies at hand!
posted by aramaic at 7:47 AM on August 16, 2007 [6 favorites]


Okay, aramaic, time to ease back on the sarcasm.
posted by liquorice at 7:53 AM on August 16, 2007


It's nice, and I'm sure it'll come to mean a lot to her descendants that Gran managed to jot down her wartime memories while she was still lucid.

This reads a little too much like the Girl's Own... version of the story that Spielberg has already told.

And while I hasten to disclaim that I have the greatest respect for anyone who lived through the World War II years, whether in military or civilian life -- an acquaintance who was a Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry Highlander and who was shot a few days after landing at Juno Beach just passed away, for example -- I have to ask, when did MetaFilter start turning into a home for warm and fuzzy family diaries? I mean, c'mon: "Little did we know that Pearl Harbor was to change our lives forever." Well, yeah, along with everyone else who was an earthling at the time.
posted by Mike D at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2007


Yeah, I saw three blind mice's comment as a useful, fairly gentle reminder of an important bit of backstory. No one's calling for the nice lady's head or anything, especially after seeing the cells the Japanese kept her family in.

Thanks, No-sword; it's a great little site, nicely divided into bite-sized pieces. I love personal history like this.
posted by mediareport at 8:01 AM on August 16, 2007


My dad has begun writing down some of his history, and what he remembers of his parents'.

Reading some of the early childhood stuff with the servants, it occured to me that my family's stories would be from the servants's POV.

And in a way, her story is a little from the servants' POV - her family were estate managers, not owners, so the kids might have the run of the place, but it wasn't theirs.

Long ago I was BFF with a little girl whose mother was the maid at a great big place not far from my house. We ran all around the place, but we had to be damn sure we didn't mess things up or get in The Lady's way. Good times.

Great link. I sent it to my dad.
posted by lysdexic at 8:20 AM on August 16, 2007


Long Way Back to the River Kwai, a recent book on the same era by Loet Velmans, who was hauled off by the Japanese to work on the Thailand-Burma railroad, can be read pretty much in its entirety via Google books.
posted by beagle at 8:40 AM on August 16, 2007


My mom is the exact same age as she is. I wish I could get her to do something like this. Even if other people don't read it, it's a wonderful source of pride and purpose for someone to have a forum to share their life and memories this way... it's so important to feel useful, as though what has happened to them and who they are is meaningful. A lot of old people do not have that. It's wonderful to see her site. Thanks.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2007


jeez tbm time to get over yourself. It's one womans recollections of a crazy life; the best of times, the worst of times and I'm glad she shared it with us.
posted by zeoslap at 8:48 AM on August 16, 2007


I loved this post...I sent her an email to tell her so. I also sent this to my mother who lived in New York City during WWII. I have been trying to get her to write down her life experience for years.
I also was thinking about the irony of this woman's memoirs as I was reading it and I wish we could hear the Indonesians side of the story in just such a format as this. I think autobiographies are a fabulous learning tool....fiction can only go so far and non fiction is too impersonal.
posted by brneyedgrl at 8:52 AM on August 16, 2007


Something for three blind mice, an excerpt from entry 54:

It was the first time that we went outside the guest house and we both were a little surprised how completely different Holland was from Indonesia, although Pim had been to Holland before and I was there too in 1934.
When we walked into the post office a few people began to speak to me, but not in a nice way at all. They called me “the daughter of a nasty exploiter, a slave driver, from the Dutch East Indies” Then they said to Pim ( an Eurasian girl) : “Don’t let her ( pointing at me) give you any orders, she is no longer your boss”.
We were both too shocked to say anything at all, they said a lot more, but I can’t remember. We waited quietly standing in the queue, I handed over my mother’s letters and paid for the stamps. We quickly walked back to the guest house.

Of course today I understand that they were very ignorant people, but not so on the 12th of June in 1946 while I had only shortly before learned that my father had died in a Kempeitai prison. Those ignorant people have really hurt me deep that day.

posted by linux at 8:55 AM on August 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Nice find!

Why are people picking on three blind mice? Is there something wrong about pointing out that the memoirs of a colonist are likely to be a little skewed? (Note, from linux's excerpt, "Of course today I understand that they were very ignorant people" where one might expect "Of course today I understand that they had justified grievances that I was too young to understand.") Is there really no middle ground between "Awww, how sweet" and "We must track her down and make her pay for her crimes!"?
posted by languagehat at 9:28 AM on August 16, 2007


I lived in Bandung (formerly spelled Bandoeng) on Java last year, and found that attitudes among the Indonesians I met there were generally ambivalent toward the Dutch, especially given the number of Dutch people and other Europeans who had made Bandung their home before the war; at the height of the city's heyday, say in the late 1930s, something like 10% of the city was of Dutch or European ancestry (a number about equal to the number of people of European ancestry in South Africa today). The Dutch architectural and cultural heritage of the city - which was founded by the Dutch in the early 1800s - makes it a bit like the New Orleans of Indonesia, with old-style Dutch spelling on shop signs, faux-colonial buildings, and other relics of the past. Bandung is also home to ITB (Institut Teknologi Bandung), which was a center for independence-related activism and remains one of the top universities in the country.

In fact, I found that many people in Bandung had a lot of pride in the Dutch-built areas of town, especially the tree-lined streets and still-standing, comparatively solid residential buildings - check out the tree-lined areas of this satellite map if you're curious to see how much the place has grown since independence, when urban planning strategies changed. The Dutch had planned to make the city the capital instead of Jakarta before the war; while runaway development has swallowed the surrounding countryside, the center of the city, especially north of the railway line, is about as nice a place to live as anywhere in the country.

Colonialism is a complex thing; I think it's to be expected that the colonized might have mixed feelings about the colonizers, especially those who lived and worked with them every day, and it's not as if the Dutch colonial experience in Indonesia, undemocratic as it was, is seen as a universally negative thing by modern Indonesians.
posted by mdonley at 9:34 AM on August 16, 2007


I think she herself found that middle ground, languagehat. If you read most of the entries, you'll find that while she, like many of us, tend to make broad statements about a people yet are capable of seeing individuals separately. I find it sweet and sad that she misses her father. It's nostalgic to wish for a childhood in a place that no longer exists and we all do it.

The strongest emotion in the narrative is how she misses her father, who died at the hand of the Kempetai. She herself does not blame the Japanese for this, and she recalls sadness when she learned one of the guards at her internment camp grieved when he found out his entire family had been wiped out by a single bomb (Nagasaki).

Imposing colonial guilt on such nostalgia should not be our place. She does not ask for her country back, she does not look at Indonesia with hate. She just lived life and took the time to write things down (and from the last entries, it is as much as a witness to those events as she does not believe the Japanese government has acknowledged these events -- kind of like Nanjing).

From the entry I quoted: she considered those people ignorant perhaps in the literal sense of the world. As much as children are ignorant, so were those who called her a rich colonialist who exploited the workers (even if that, in fact, is only true in that her family was Dutch, otherwise they were caretakers, now owners, and therefore had little wealth themselves -- compared to the Dutch owners).

On a personal note, I grew up in the Philippines, where 300 years of Spanish colonial rule has imposed itself on the culture very strongly. Even the several decades of American colonialism left their stamp in that country, with English replacing Spanish as the lingua franca. mdonley is right, colonialism is very complex. And it is certainly not the topic of this woman's memoirs, so why should we make it so?
posted by linux at 11:34 AM on August 16, 2007


I just wanted to add a little bit more. I'm too young to have been part of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, but the stories my grandparents, aunts and uncles tell me tell of a time of extreme hardship, courage, betrayal and loss.

I wish they had taken the time to write down their experiences like Ms. van Kampen, for while I can always tell others of how my grandfather was in a camp hanging hands behind his back on a hook against his wrist-binds or how since my grandfather and his wife were the only Protestants in town the a Japanese lieutenant who happened to be Protestant would visit on Sundays for private service (this being before grandad gets hung up on a hook) or how my uncle stole sugar from the Japanese guard post by popping through the floor boards, well those are just stories I tell. I wasn't there, I can't tell you how it felt. What I would give to find a memoir somewhere in that family estate....
posted by linux at 11:44 AM on August 16, 2007


And it is certainly not the topic of this woman's memoirs, so why should we make it so?

Huh? Nobody's making anything "the topic of this woman's memoirs"—we're discussing a post linking to the memoirs. You (and others) are reacting as if the woman were sitting here in a room with us, trying to tell us her story, and nasty MeFites were interrupting her with their theories of colonialism. This is a website. We link to things, then we talk about those links or about other things that come to mind because of the links. Sometimes we say irrelevant things; sometimes we even snark. But this woman will never know what we said about colonialism in the Dutch East Indies, and I'm hard pressed to understand why we should act as her support group instead of carrying on our usual MetaFilter discussion.
posted by languagehat at 12:01 PM on August 16, 2007


This is probably one of my favorite posts in a long time. No-sword did a very fine job of posting background information (some of which I didn't find to be very flattering to the Dutch, and rightly so), and these memoirs are wonderful.

Near the end of the stories, you find that her reason for writing this was exactly as linux says - to bear witness to what happened in the South Pacific in a world that doesn't pay it much attention. Americans only pay attention to continental Europe and Pearl Harbor, and the Dutch only pay attention to the German occupation, and the Chinese only pay attention to their own Japanese occupation. It seems that only the Aussies and Kiwis remember, and their story is quite a different one.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:52 PM on August 16, 2007


No-sword, thank you very much for the post.

It astounds me when reading these kinds of things, especially when written from a child's or young person's perspective. Even though she was aged when she wrote that, her child-like honesty and clarity were still quite apparent. What a sad and beautiful story.
posted by snsranch at 3:33 PM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is there something wrong about pointing out that the memoirs of a colonist are likely to be a little skewed? (Note, from linux's excerpt, "Of course today I understand that they were very ignorant people" where one might expect "Of course today I understand that they had justified grievances that I was too young to understand.")

The "they" in question were Dutch nationals, presumably racially Dutch, and in Holland, so I think it might be a little more complicated than that. What grievances might they have had against this returning outlander? None that I can see, though for what it's worth, the end line of that section reads: "My grandparent’s country didn’t welcome the “supposed rich” from the Far East." Make of that what you will. Me, I suspect that the girl provided them a chance to practice a little superiority after years of occupation by Germany- people freshly liberated, especially by others, can react oddly and even viciously.

As to evil Mefites- nothing wrong in pointing out skewery in ex-colonists or anyone else; valuable, even. But when it looks like it might be an occasion to display one's own more delicate sensibilities, well, it can grate, especially when the outpointers appear never to been anywhere close to the situation. I read a line once years ago (Breitmann's Ballads? Katzenjammers? Something like that.) which addressed this same sort of issue with one invariable question: "Vas you dere den, Charlie?" And as I've said before, who knows how history will view the mores of our times? (Not that I'm accusing anyone here of anything. Just sayin', as they say.)

As to the woman herself, I was struck, among other things, by this offhand comment: "it took nine more months before the Japanese emperor Hirohito ended World War Two in Asia." Not quite sure what to make of it, really. Literalism? Irony? Forgiveness?

On preview, NewWazoo has it right. This is a widely ignored theatre of WWII, and whatever witness we still have time to extract can only be a good thing. I've known women who might have been the author, and the stories they told make this offering sound like the Child's Garden of Verse. They too, oddly but admirably, were without recrimination, and I wish they had written their stories.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:36 PM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


The "they" in question were Dutch nationals, presumably racially Dutch, and in Holland, so I think it might be a little more complicated than that.

My bad: didn't read carefully enough.

nothing wrong in pointing out skewery in ex-colonists or anyone else; valuable, even. But when it looks like it might be an occasion to display one's own more delicate sensibilities, well, it can grate, especially when the outpointers appear never to been anywhere close to the situation.

I see what you're saying, but you have to admit that looked at from the other side that attitude can look like another way to display one's own more delicate sensibilities—and "vas you dere, Sharlie?" (that was Jack Pearl as Baron Munchausen, by the way) is not a fair comment when discussing history (or almost anything, really). If we only had a right to talk about what we'd personally experienced... well, among other things, MetaFilter would be a graveyard.

At any rate, we all agree that this is a fantastic post and the memoirs are a treasure trove, so let's move the minor quarrel about the propriety of talk of colonialism to the back burner!
posted by languagehat at 7:17 PM on August 16, 2007


At any rate, we all agree that this is a fantastic post and the memoirs are a treasure trove, so let's move the minor quarrel about the propriety of talk of colonialism to the back burner!
posted by languagehat at 7:17 PM on August 16 [+] [!]


Thanks, languagehat. That was very well put.

Any talk of colonialism in this thread is silly. Clearly, our authoress is, or was, an innocent. It is also clear that her father was a patron in the area.

It is interesting that even after the internment of the Dutch families, that the locals came to them seeking employment.
posted by snsranch at 8:38 PM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Exceptional and fascinating post, No-sword. Just my cup of chai. Thank you.
posted by nickyskye at 10:19 PM on August 16, 2007


« Older That hokum recording of Bruckner's   |   Carlos Paredes Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post